Halloween weekend brought more than just pumpkin smashing and zombie dancing to Bellingham. Sometime in the dark of night, an anonymous person (or persons) affixed a metal sculpture of a lithe, flexible woman to a previously desolate—yet sturdy—pile of industrial waste near Boulevard Park’s Taylor Dock. The anonymous artist, who prefers to remain so, slipped a disc with the following missive under our office door late last week.
Q: Who are you?
A: I’m an under-employed fool who happened to notice, after 15 years, that a welding machine was rotting in his garage. As the economy spun down the toilet, and as my funds and sanity followed, I explored new ways of dealing with my boredom and frustrations. I’m terrified of electricity—capable of blowing a diaper in half if a 9-volt tickles me wrong—but decided I wanted to fiddle around with this thing, this welder, before I pawned it or lobbed it in a dumpster.
You want my name, though, and the answer is no. I don’t want to reveal my name because I suspect that a dervish of lawyers are, right now, cranking up billable hours to figure out what flavor of sins I have committed by desecrating this hunk of industrial pollution, the “slag island,” that I installed “Grace” upon.
Q: Why did you decide to do a “guerrilla install?” Couldn’t you have done this legitimately?
A: It is vaguely possible that the City of Bellingham, or whoever owns that island, would have supported such a proposal. But, remember, I’m just a scumbag in a garage. I’m not an artist. I’m not going to sit through committees, and draft grant requests, and fill bubble charts or sketch pretty charrettes to submit for the Art Review Board—if such an entity even exists. That process would clobber me senseless and, again, why not just drink until my liver starts humping my leg?
I saw soul-crushing migraines on that horizon. I saw the inevitable, unavoidable, drab twit who would perk up to say; “Hey, you know what would look really nifty? An ORCA! Yay! Let’s put an orca prancing on the rock!” The vote would be unanimous, the public survey polls would cost $34,000, and I’d be crying myself to sleep. I talked to my mentors, including people with a lot of throw in this town, and they said I should just shut up, quit whining, and do it.
Q: How did you do it?
A: That rock is dangerous on its own and utterly malicious as a work environment. It is composed of three charming elements; barnacles, moldy things that came from the orifices of seagulls, and millions of compressed, rusty, jagged tin cans. Groveling all over on that concoction and wrestling with 400 pounds of razor-sharp sheet metal quickly made me a bloody, drooling mess. I doubt it would make for a nice day hike. I know doing it at 3am——doing it repeatedly—helped me to find my new spirit animal. God is a sand flea, apparently.
The technical parts of the installation were more mundane: I drilled 7/8” holes ranging from 10”-12” deep and then used structural epoxy to cement galvanized all-thread bolts into those cavities. The techniques I used are rated to support office towers, so, no, barring a direct attack, that sculpture isn’t going anywhere.
The lawyerly sorts might also want to know that I used structural mild steel for the chassis and those welds that support weight were done by a WABO-certified welder who conspired to teach me the whatnots of his trade. I have no idea what WABO even means, however, and for the remaining months of welding I used the “push, puddle, and pray” technique that informs of a person deathly afraid of electricity. I also had a box of 500 pop rivets when I started this project, beginning in December, 2010. They were all used. Clamp, drill, pop! Bleed. (Repeat 499 times.) And so I bled, or burnt, through almost every phase of this clumsy endeavor. The final exclamation point in the foolishness was atomizing my finger, pinching the tip off it like a ripe zit, during my last hour of suffering up on Charon’s Turd. “Grace,” it seems, was reluctant to slip onto her bolts until she knew that a cushiony landing on my digit was assured.
Q: You had help, co-conspirators?
A: I did. I finally got a lithe damsel to pose for me, the welder guy showed up occasionally, and I wrangled some brutes—some guerrillas, if you will—for the install. I’d like to say something fluffy, something like, “This was a collaboration representing the creative citizenry of Bellingham and the world community of artists!” The fact is that, except for a very few absolutely Golden ambassadors of our species, I had to slay this dragon on my own. Getting a commitment from the arty sorts, in general, is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.
Q: Sounds fun! So, what next?
A: I need to apologize to whoever is out there having kittens over this stunt of mine. I am sorry, and I mean that, because I love this town and only hoped my gift of 400 pounds of slightly bloodied steel could outwardly express the internal adoration I have for this community. And I hope people can sympathize with my fixation, birthed by an innocent idea, that something might look really cool on that lump of industrial jetsam.
“Grace” doesn’t care two boiled farts about coal trains, or elections, or even the devastating impacts of rogue orcas savaging our rural farmlands. She’s just a slightly prettier bit of metal sitting on a rock-shaped hunk of metal. I hope people enjoy her, but I don’t presume her to be the definitive answer to the question of, “What weird thing can we bolt to this rock?” To that end, and in recognition that paper-thin sheet metal will not likely cotton to a coastal environment, I plan to take her down once rust and time have won their day. I’ll promise the kittenish folk that within five years time (but likely much sooner) I’ll remove her, leave those bomb-proof bolts in place, and allow this City of Subdued Excitement to find a better answer to the question than the one I so hastily provided.
Q: Anything else?
A: No unicorns were harmed in the construction of this artwork. Barnacles, however, were less fortunate.
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